A Busman’s Holiday, or Just a Hard Drive?

They say that plumbers typically have leaky pipes in their own house, and that the wives of painters and decorators all complain their own house could do with a lick of paint. When you do one kind of job all week, the last thing you want to do at weekends is the same job. Here in England it’s what they call “a busman’s holiday”, though most bus drivers probably drive a car at the weekend and revel in not having to stop every five hundred yards.

I suppose I experienced the same thing when I worked as a traveling salesman. Before then I would quite happily spend weekends with my head under the bonnet (hood) of my car, or messing about with something oily underneath, or installing all kinds of exciting motoring gizmos in it, or just polishing it until you could see your face in the paintwork. But once I started spending all week driving, I suddenly lost interest in playing with cars at weekends.

And it seems that the same effect is operational now that I’m a documentation engineer. I spend all day reading and writing technical documents, so when I’m not at work I tend to avoid computers and anything associated with them. However, often this just results in some unexpected outcomes when I skip through lists of technical specs and product details. And it’s also why, this week, I ended up with a three-quarters-empty drive bay in my Media Center box.

The poor old machine has been struggling for ages, giving intermittent errors and stopping in the middle of TV programs. When Media Center tells you it can’t find MFC2.DLL, when Internet Explorer can’t display anything except a blank page because mshtml.dll has gone walk-about, when there are six copies of every channel in the guide, and when it tells you that the domain admin’s password is wrong, it’s pretty obvious that the operating system is not in peak condition. I suspected for a while that the hard drive was on the way to meet its maker (though I’m not sure Western Digital will actually want it back), but I didn’t actually get round to doing anything about it until a mass of errors started to appear.

Oh well, I have an image of the drive that I can restore onto a nice new one. The drive in a Media Center box that is used as a TV works hard – often it’s recording two programs while playing back another one – so I can’t really complain when one that’s nearly five years old starts to get tired. Though it turned that the most recent image of the drive was five months old – my backup schedule usually coincides with periods when it’s recording something vital such as all the soaps, and it tends to get missed.

So I wander across to Amazon to order a new drive for next morning delivery. Of course, there’s thousands listed. I know I want SATA 500 GB, preferably a fast one with a large cache. By filtering the options I finally got down to about twenty, sorted by price. I did my usual trick of jumping to the middle of the list (I don’t want cheap and nasty, but I can’t afford the best) and picked a WD one that seemed ideal. And the next day a tiny packet turned up that was just about large enough to hold a credit card, and weighed about the same.

Yep, as usual I’d managed to avoid reading the complete spec of the drive and ordered a 2.5 inch one instead of a 3.5 inch one. It’s so small that I had the read the label on it three times to convince myself it was 500 GB. Still, it’s got the same connectors on the back, so why wouldn’t it work? Except that it looks lost sitting in a corner of the drive bay and there’s no screw holes to fix it with either.

No problem. Stick it to the bottom of the bay with double-sided sticky pads, though it will have to go in upside down because there’s only bare circuit board on the bottom. Is this a problem? Will the needle fall out of the groove, or will the heat rising from the motor melt the solder on the board? Turns out that the power wires are too short and not bendy enough to put it in upside down anyway, so I just stuck it to the bottom of the 3.5 inch floppy drive above. It has the added advantage that the foam sticky pads act as a cushion, and make it really quiet. Though it will probably overheat now because its not bolted to a big lump of tin drive housing… 

Next job, fire up TrueImage and restore my operating system. And it worked! Well, it sort of worked. It seems I’d nudged the TV tuner card, so there were no tuners showing up in Media Center. Unplug everything again, take it out of the cabinet, open the case, firkle the card a bit, and put it all back together again. That’s that problem cured. It even seemed to install the 47 Windows updates that had accumulated over five months really quickly, so that’s a good sign.

Of course, the machine now appears to the domain as though it’s suddenly lost five months, and it can’t authenticate. It was only after I manually removed it from the domain and rejoined that I discovered the Reset Account option in the domain controller’s Active Directory Users and Computers. See what not reading the manual does for you?

Finally, I had to reset the TV signal and reconfigure the channels because they’ve all changed since the backup image was created. But, all in all, it was only a few hours’ work; and a lot less than reinstalling from scratch. In fact, with the low price of hard drives, I’m seriously considering replacing my FDISK habit with just buying a new one each time. It would save the agro of doing all the reinstall and setup work, and then finding that the existing disk was near the end of its useful life.

So we have TV again, and I’m about to image the drive now so that I have a new copy in case it all goes wrong again. No doubt that will be just when my wife is watching Coronation Street. There’ll be a loud clunk followed by intermittent rattling when the sticky pads fail and the disk drops to the bottom of the drive bay. I suppose I can try to convince her that it’s part of the soundtrack…


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